Jailhouse Crock

I was arrested by bad cops on bogus charges and spent a bizarre night behind bars

The police picked up the women first. A female officer told me to spread my legs and put my head against a prisoner transport truck that had arrived on the scene. While she frisked me, I repeated that I was a journalist and that my credentials and my notebook were in my black leather backpack nearby. She wasn't interested in the fact that I was a reporter, but did reassure me that my belongings would be waiting for me when I was released.

The officer removed my driver's license and a stack of New Times business cards from my jacket pocket, looked them over, then replaced them. Another officer untied my hiking boots and checked my socks for weapons. Onboard the paddy wagon were others arrested at the same time, the women separated from the men by a metal barrier. The Stewart brothers were there, and young Nate later told me about being frisked by two officers before being loaded onto the van. "One was mean and the other guy was really nice," he recounted. The mean cop ground his heel into Nate's foot and growled in his ear: "Welcome to fucking Miami. How do you like it here?"

Three paddy wagons filled with as many as eight people each finally began speeding toward the Biscayne Boulevard parking lots just south of the Freedom Tower. Here a group of officers waited to fill out arrest reports. "I want you to know I'm not comfortable with this," a ponytailed female officer said to a male officer named Manny, who wore a star-spangled bandanna. She wasn't worried about us; she didn't like the way the reports were shaping up. Manny agreed to a rewrite. At one point another officer complained: "We don't even know what they're charged with. This is so fucking stupid."

Jonathan Postal
Gunnison idealist: Austin Stewart (left) and Amanda Acker, protesting peacefully
Jonathan Postal
Gunnison idealist: Austin Stewart (left) and Amanda Acker, protesting peacefully

Finally the police settled on the following narrative for me and the four guys from Gunnison: "Defendant was observed in the area of NW Nineteenth Street and N. Miami Ave. with a group of individuals which matched description of people who were throwing rocks due to FTAA protests. Defendant was approached and asked to stop and refused. Defendant subsequently taken into custody without incident." None of us, of course, threw any rocks. And all of us instantly stopped when we were told to do so. Still I was slapped with two misdemeanor charges: one count of "failure to obey a lawful command" and one count of "resisting [arrest] w/o violence."

In time we were taken to the Earlington Heights Metrorail station along State Road 112 near NW 22nd Avenue. The parking garage there had been converted into a holding area for FTAA prisoners. Two young activists who'd been arrested with me -- "Porch," a massage therapist who worried about nerve damage because her cuffs were so tight; and a woman I called Houdini, a double-jointed anarchist who taunted police by rotating her arms from behind her back to her front -- were processed quickly because they refused to provide any personal information. They called it "jail solidarity," an act they hoped would clog the court system and give them leverage in having their charges dropped.

We ended up in a chainlink cage with an Italian girl who was singing the Bob Marley anthem "Get Up, Stand Up (for Your Rights)." Artist Claudia LaBianca knew nothing about the FTAA protests, but with her wild hair, paint-spackled shorts, and unshaven armpits, she could have passed for an anarchist. She and her blond-dreadlocked boyfriend had ventured out from her Overtown studio to visit a friend in an apartment building near Miami Avenue. Without warning police stormed the building, grabbed the pair out of the elevator, and placed them under arrest.

LaBianca noticed Laura Winter sobbing in the cage next door. Winter is a secretary with the United Steelworkers of America who was caught in the dragnet while trying to get back to her hotel. "It's all right," the artist consoled her, then belted out the classic Mexican folk tune "Cielito Lindo": "Ay ay ay ay ay/Sing and don't cry."

When a guard with a handful of plastic cuffs walked down an aisle between the cages, 71-year-old prisoner Bentley Killmon pleaded with him to loosen his handcuffs. Soon everyone in the holding area was chanting: "Change his cuffs! Change his cuffs!" The handcuff man relented. He had Killmon pulled out of the cage and tied on a new pair of cuffs before cutting off the old in case the retired airline pilot from Fort Myers became violent.

One by one we were taken from the cages and processed a second time at a row of card tables manned by Miami-Dade corrections officers, where we were relieved of any possessions left in our pockets. Anyone wearing boots had those removed too, so I slogged around for the rest of the night in my socks. At least the handcuffs were cut off from behind my back and a new pair put on with my hands in front -- although still too tight. Two officers escorted each of us to another paddy wagon.

I was shoved in next to a woman in her early forties who looked more like a nun than an anarchist. She identified herself as Bork and said she works in a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. Later, in the holding cell, she told me she'd been arrested 27 times in the past three years for actions that ranged from taking over abandoned houses for the homeless in D.C. to chaining herself to the gates of the United Nations, trapping Secretary of State Colin Powell inside for 45 minutes while insisting he could not come out until he made peace in the Middle East.

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